It’s happening: Enlisted airmen will be allowed to fly some remotely piloted aircraft.Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced Thursday that enlisted airmen will be able to fly RQ-4 Global Hawks, unarmed RPAs that fly high-altitude reconnaissance missions.“There are no weapons on the RQ-4. However, there are not limitations on enlisted members employing weapons,” said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Karns. “The Air Force employs enlisted airmen on other aircraft where they are responsible for employing lethal force where necessary.”Currently, the Air Force is not considering allowing enlisted airmen to fly other RPAs, such as the MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper, Karns said in an email Thursday to Air Force Times.
The ever increasing demands of the RPA community, coupled with some bad personnel management choices, and some structural/economic issues leaves the Air Force with a crippling shortage of available pilots.
Which is kinda funny, because most folks who garner a commission in the Air Force just want to fly.
There’s an obvious solution here that the Air Force will simply never embrace.
Warrant officers. The Air Force is the only branch of service without them.
But flying warrant officers could be a viable community. You’d probably not really have success simply restricting them to RPA only (they’d get burned out just as fast as commissioned officers) but you could easily design a career path where warrant officers spent time as RPA pilots, and then spent tours in other communities. No, the Air Force would never let them into the fast jet community. But how about in the Undergraduate Pilot Training field? Or some of the more esoteric Special Operations or rotary wing fields? Or have a secondary career track, such as specialists in aviation safety or engineering?